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Recordings

Giuseppe Verdi: Otello
07 Sep 2007

VERDI: Otello

Director Willy Decker's outstanding Traviata from Salzburg, with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon, is one of the great contemporary opera DVDs.

Giuseppe Verdi: Otello

Otello: José Cura
Desdemona: Krassimira Stoyanova
Iago: Lado Ataneli
Cassio: Vittorio Grigolo
Emilia: Ketevan Kemoklidze
Roderigo: Vicenç
Esteve Madrid
Lodovico: Giorgio Giuseppini
Montano: Francisco Santiago
Herald: Roberto Accurso
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Antoni Ros-Marbà, Musical Director, Willy Decker, Stage Director

Opus Arte OA0963D [2DVDs]

$34.98  Click to buy

Arguably, all viewers get to respond as they wish: traditionalists get to huff and puff in righteous indignation at the modern dress, open sensuality, and freedom with theatrical conventions (such as having the doctor present throughout the opera as a harbinger of death), while less conservative eyes get to take in all the above mentioned with excited appreciation.

Decker's approach also worked well in a Boris Godunov on DVD filmed at the Liceu in Barcelona. A more recent release from the same house finds Decker's approach still with some strengths but not achieving a total success. The opera is Verdi's Otello, and Decker finds himself with an eager stage animal in the lead, José Cura. The performance dates from February 2006.

As with the other productions mentioned above, Decker in this Otello favors a basic, spare set (a lot of bloody red, with Cura in black often standing out amongst others in white). This allows for seamless transitions between acts. Here, as one example, he has Iago (Lado Ataneli) enter at the end of the love duet in act one, and then continues on into act two without break. Touches such as this bring a unity to the drama that compensates for any perceived lack of naturalistic depiction.

However, whereas in the Traviata and Godunov Decker found motifs and symbols that propelled the action (such as the oversized clock running down the hours of Violetta's life, and the similarly oversized golden throne for Godunov), here Decker hasn't found as compelling a detail. A large cross plays a central role in the action, and although the opera certainly has its share of appeals to "Dio," how exactly this reinforces the drama remains unclear. A late scene with a wall-sized mirror borders on the risible, as characters sneak around it, just missing each other, as in some lame farce.

The main liability, however, is Cura, who paradoxically gives a passionate, sturdy performance, marking him as one of the few tenors on the scene today able to perform the role in a convincing manner. Cura's throaty timbre can grate in more lyrical roles; here that very thick sound reinforces Otello's masculine authority. But Cura is a self-conscious performer, and the effects he produces are studied, premeditated. As such, they do not blend well with the coolness with which Decker approaches the opera. Then again, what can Cura do? Otello is a hot-blooded opera, and Decker's approach may ultimately not be suited to the material.

The other cast members fit Decker's approach more smoothly: Ataneli's confident, sneering Iago and Krassimira Stoyanova's gentle, baffled Desdemona both sing with distinction. Vittorio Grigolo, a good-looking young tenor who has had some pop-oriented commercial forces promoting him, shows he has the stuff for, at least, a worthy Cassio. Antoni Ros-Marbá and the Liceu chorus and orchestra bring no special profundity to Verdi's score, which is fine, as the score itself is profound enough.

Domingo dominates Otello on DVD, although Vickers' towering achievement can still be discerned in the stiff film Karajan produced. This Liceu DVD documents a worthy attempt, but the elements never pull themselves into a coherent whole. Nice try.

Chris Mullins

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